Morocco: The Rif rises again

The regime comes down hard on the rebellious Rif. The Moroccan spring rises again.

Last Friday, May 26th, the believers in the mosques in Al Hoceima were surprised and outraged when they heard the sermons of the religious leaders.

Those bribed civil servants of the state and not of God, made a very political use of the Friday prayer to launch an attack against the Hirak movement and its charismatic leader Alzfzafi, accusing him of organising ‘discord’ (Fitna) in the country. Many people left the religious places immediately in anger and to protest.

Alzfzafi himself held a speech afterwards to defend the ‘movement‘ (Hirak), which has been protesting unrelentingly for 6 months against marginalisation, the police and military repression, and the attacks against their justified popular demands. Remember how last year the brutal death of a fishmonger sparked a mass movement in the whole mountainous Rif region and the main cities of the Kingdom. The main demands are for jobs, hospitals, infrastructure, a university, ending the militarisation of the region (in place since 1959), ending the endemic corruption, and granting political freedom.

Political use of religion

The spontaneous indignation in the city was the signal for the police forces to intervene, and for the prostitute media to launch a vitriolic public campaign in particular against the leader of this rebellious movement. The ministry of religious affairs (under direct control of the King, the Commander of the believers, a supposedly direct descendent of the Prophet) issued a statement against this ‘attack against the sacred places’, and condemned Alzfzafi. In the Moroccan politics of the dictatorship, defying the monopoly of the king in religious affairs (in reality political affairs) is to cross a red line. The challenge of Alzfzafi is not so much religious but political; he has challenged the authority of the absolute monarch. This cannot be tolerated.

In no time did all the bodies of the state react in a coordinated way to tighten the net around Al Hoceima. An arrest warrant against Alzfzafi was issued and 20 leaders were immediately arrested. Alzfzafi initially escaped his arrest and held a speech from the roof of his family home. Then he went into hiding until the police arrested him on Monday 29th. A real ‘mise en scène’ of the police in front of the cameras had to convey the image of an arrested terrorist or a humiliated leader.

The youth of Al Hoceima reacted boldly with demonstrations and acts of defiance of the police and the military in different cities of the region. A general strike paralysed Al Hoceima. Yesterday saw the biggest demonstration in the city and a formidable display of courage, solidarity and discipline. The regime hoped to decapitate the movement with the arrest of their leaders. What is happening now is the population is organising as never before. Remarkably, the role of girls and women is growing in the movement.

The regime is at odds on how to curb the protests

The provocation by the regime is an act of despair. Six months ago they hoped that by showing some empathy in the media, by sacking some high civil servants, and by the classical promises of investments, the movement would rapidly get ebb away. This did not happen.

In reality the regime does not know anymore how to deal with the protests. For months they tried to portray those in the movement in the Rif as racist and separatists, hoping to isolate and demoralise them. They tried to corrupt some leaders and co-opt new ones in the local state apparatus. Then ten days ago the central government has sent seven (!) ministers to the city with baskets full of (yes again) …promises. But people cannot eat promises. They already had indigestion from false promises. The population reacted with contempt and utter indifference at this hypocritical show. But parallel to the show, the different armed wings of the state started to move their pieces. A showdown was in the making. This came to a head last Friday. It seemed to backfire at the regime like a boomerang.

First of all the population of the city is more defiant than ever. The regime is taking on that part of the population which has a proud tradition of anti-colonial struggle (the Rif war against Spain and France from 1921 to 1926), and political uprisings (the war of 1958-59). They fear no more. In reality fear has changed sides. Smaller cities of the region are also entering the movement. Women who had played a secondary role are taking the fore.  Bigger cities like Nador are not yet as involved as Al Hoceima. If Nador ‘falls’, where police control is less present and more difficult (the city is three times bigger than Al Hoceima), then the regime will really start to get nervous.

The Rif is not alone

Protests were also organised in other big cities, including Rabat (the political capital), Casablanca (the economic capital), Nador, Oujda, Tetuán, Tánger, Kenitra, Fez, Taoujtat, Kelaât Sraghna, Agadir, and Tiznit. From the hilly and green North, to the torrid and sandy South, all Morocco is rising.

On Sunday 11th of June a national demonstration will take place in Casablanca. In some cities the regime has paid thugs and lumpen elements to stage counter demonstrations and provoke incidents. But those were very small actions in relation to the mass character of the protests. Where the protests are smaller, the police tries to use violence with the aim of intimidating the activists, and stifle the prospect of a mass movement.

Significantly the middle classes are moving away from the regime and taking sides with the protest movement. A thousand lawyers have publically announced they would freely and voluntary take up the defence of the arrested activists. This is a real defiance of the justice system. The fate of prisoners is very important. The first reports indicate they are tortured and badly treated. Some of them are forced to shout ‘Long live the King’, if they do not, they are beaten. And indeed they refuse. Instead they shout ‘Long live the people’. A regime which has to coerce its youth in shouting ‘Long live the King’ is condemned.  

In the past the imprisonment of activists tended to derail the movement. The initial demands of the protests were forgotten. This is not the case now. All the causes for the social and political malaise in the country are coming together.

An activist made this assessment on Media24: ‘In Casablanca where I live I hear people scolding angrily, in the taxis and the cafés, but also in the middle classes, who have difficulties paying back their credits […] The “Rifains” are the first to react, but today, I’m almost certain, if there are no jobs, we will see new Alzfzafi’s emerge in all the peripheral neighbourhoods with a lot of unemployment. And he will appear as the nicest of them all […] Every year indeed 300,000 young people enter the labour market but only 30,000 jobs are created every year.  This means an extra 270,000 unemployed youth every year. Imagine what this means in 10 years.’

The heroic and resilient youth of the Rif is becoming a point of reference for all the downtrodden and for all the grievances of the oppressed. Many regions of the country are facing similar marginalisation. The understanding that they can all come together is growing. This is something the regime tried to avoid. It is taking shape before our eyes.

Democratic organisation and a revolutionary programme needed

One of the lessons though is that the movement has to go beyond spontaneity and start to organise itself thoroughly. Nasser Alzfzafi is a courageous and sincere leader. Nobody doubts this. But the bigger the movement, the less one leader or even a group of leaders are sufficient to organise, train and guide it politically. The advance of the movement cannot depend on the decision, the opinion, or the state of mind of one person. A more ample and democratic structure is needed based on public assemblies in schools, universities, workplaces, and neighbourhoods.

In a dictatorship every small demand becomes political and tends to challenge the established privileges of the ruling class. Therefore the programme of correct demands of the Hirak and the myriad of other protest movements have to be linked to the demand of full political freedom and the end of the dictatorship.

The provocation in the mosques points also to the need to separate religion from the state.  The dictatorship makes a cynical use of the religious beliefs of the people to perpetuate its power and privileges. Religion must become a personal affair and cannot be used for political reasons. This is also an important part of the struggle against oppression.

It is very correct to advance all the demands against economic and social marginalisation of the Rif, and against the militarisation of the region. We think the programme should also speak to ALL the oppressed and exploited throughout the whole of Morocco. There can be no end to the oppression of the Rif without an end to oppression of the rest of the youth and workers in Morocco. On a unified basis, the movement can overthrow the dictatorship.

Within capitalism there can be no real freedom and justice, no end to oppression, poverty and exploitation, no end to war and disease. Instead, the vast natural and human resources of the country can be used to radically transform the lives of millions. This is possible in our lifetime. It needs a revolution - a socialist revolution - which will expropriate the rich and the corrupted; take back the power of the wealthy, of the lazy kings and  parasitic princes; and establish a democratic plan of production to answer all the needs of the population. To really win all our demands we need this socialist revolution as quickly as possible. Join the IMT in Morocco and help us build a movement to reach this goal!

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